War and Peace
This autobiographical photo essay is also a metaphor for the universality of human conflict and aggression, beginning within and between individuals, and culminating in wars between nations, cultures and religions. It deals specifically with the instants in which the psyche of man is reduced, by either a real or perceived threat, to its most basic instinct: to preserve itself above all else. In these moments, a creature must make a choice between the most fundamental of all behaviors: flee in order to escape the threat, or fight the threat in order to suppress it.
The sequence of photos follows the arc of a storyline—the story of our lives, and of the impactful episodes within our lives—the personal failures and broken relationships, the adventures, triumphs and lessons learned. From conflict into climax, to denouement and finally, resolution.
These pictures are part of an ongoing attempt to reconcile the conflict and aggression that exists within myself; to come to terms with my capacity for harm and the actual harm I’ve caused others in my handling of conflict. They’re about losing control—the point at which reason stops and instinct takes over, and the emotional consequences that manifests. They ask the still-unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) question that haunts the conscience in the aftermath of these episodes: In the most desperate moments, are our actions the result of choices, or predetermined by nature and conditioning? Is our control over ourselves absolute, or at times just a façade?
Ultimately, however, this project is about the undying hope that through introspection and healing we can arrive at a place of peace within ourselves, and with all others. Part of this hope is that we can develop the awareness and understanding to resolve the conflicts in our lives in better ways; that we can transcend the urge to war by learning how to consciously and intentionally practice peace. If we can find a meaning and a value in all we experience, even our suffering and our mistakes, we can assure that neither will have occurred in vain. This remains an important goal in my life and an ongoing motivation for my art.
“To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic. … Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior. We catch ourselves one zillion times as once again, whether we like it or not, we harden into resentment, bitterness, righteous indignation—harden in any way, even into a sense of relief, a sense of inspiration.”
“Every day we could think about the aggression in the world, in New York, Los Angeles, Halifax, Taiwan, Beirut, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq, everywhere. All over the world, everybody always strikes out at the enemy, and the pain escalates forever. Every day we could reflect on this and ask ourselves, ‘Am I going to add to the aggression in the world?’ Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves, ‘Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?’”
“How…can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects? After all, ‘saying yes to life in spite of everything’…presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. … That is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.”
“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes—within the limits of endowment and environment—he has made out of himself. …in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of [us] behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
“…How are we ever going to change anything? How is there going to be less aggression in the universe rather than more? We can then bring it down to a more personal level: how do I learn to communicate with somebody who is hurting me or someone who is hurting a lot of people? How do I speak to someone so that some change actually occurs? How do I communicate so that the space opens up and both of us begin to touch into some kind of basic intelligence that we all share? In a potentially violent encounter, how do I communicate so that neither of us becomes increasingly furious and aggressive? How do I communicate to the heart so that things that seem frozen, unworkable, and eternally aggressive begin to soften up, and some kind of compassionate exchange begins to happen?
“Well, it starts with being willing to feel what we are going through. It starts with being willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of ourselves that we feel are not worthy of existing on this planet. If we are willing…to be mindful not only of what feels comfortable, but also of what pain feels like, if we even aspire to stay awake and open to what we’re feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best we can in each moment, then something begins to change.”
(Quotes selected from Pema Chodron “When Things Fall Apart” and Viktor E. Frankl “Mankind’s Search For Meaning”)